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The Claudia Quintet: I, Claudia

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After debuting as a leader with three nearly simultaneous releases two years ago, drummer/composer John Hollenbeck returns with I, Claudia, the sophomore effort from his Claudia Quintet. Consisting of Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Ted Reichman on accordion, Matt Moran on vibes, and Drew Gress on bass, the band adeptly maneuvers the leader's quirky, odd-metered compositions, making them feel natural. From African-inspired polyrhythms and sheets of sound to funk grooves, modern classical nods, and free improvisation, Hollenbeck expresses his diverse influences and keeps the changes constant, switching between tight ensemble lines, flowing passages and improvisation.

To celebrate the release of I, Claudia, the band performed at Tonic last month, giving a workout to many of the new tunes. Like the CD, the show kicked off with the skittering, syncopated groove of "Just Like Him." In counterpoint to the kinetic pace of the drums, the ensemble sustains longer notes, which reach a mournful climax in the middle of the song when the drums stop and Reichman and Speed drone together. At the gig the two were joined by Hollenbeck's melodica, Moran's whistle, and Gress' plastic-toy saxophone, adding to the cacophony.

Reichman and Speed also tested the limits of harmony on "Can You Get Through This Life With a Good Heart?," which was atmospheric and sparse until Hollenbeck entered with a laid-back rhythm. "Misty Hymen" allowed the band to showcase its tight unison playing—the punctuated stops as crisp as the recording. "Couch" featured a mutant-reggae feel and a melody that was deconstructed into long, sustained sounds by the end.

A highlight of the recording is "The Cloud of Unknowing," a more through-composed piece that takes time to build, with shifting sections built around the accordion, clarinet, and vibes. On "Adowa," the bass and vibes play a unison part against a repetitive tenor line, while Hollenbeck adds a complex pattern split between rim shots, cymbals, and rolling toms.

I, Claudia is at once challenging and fun—full of surprise, wit, and great performances by all.


Track Listing: 1. Just Like Him 6:37 2. Opening 6:40 3. Arabic 8:23 4. The Cloud of Unknowing 6:08 5. Adowa (For Gra) 5:28 6. ...Can You Get Through This Life With a... 7:38 7. Misty Hymen 5:45 8. Couch 9:01

Personnel: Drew Gress - Bass; John Hollenbeck - Drums; Chris Speed - Clarinet, Tenor Sax; Ted Reichman - Accordion; Matt Moran - Percussion, Vibraphone.

Title: I, Claudia | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


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